All You Need to Know About Stevia

Stevia is one of the most popular sweeteners you can find today. This comes from the bushy shrub of the sunflower family, and is native to North and South America. For instance, it is specifically native to Brazil and Paraguay. However, it also grows in Japan and China. Further, it is one of the oldest sweeteners you will find. In fact, studies find that stevia has been used to sweeten tea and beverages since the 16th century.

Ayurvedic schools in India prize this a herbal medicine and all-natural nutritive sweetener. This means that it has almost zero calories. For these reasons, it is one of the most effective substitutes to artificial and high calorie sweeteners. Thus, it can prevent certain illnesses caused by sugar excess, such as diabetes or obesity.

Safety Levels and Risks

Research suggests that raw stevia may harm your kidneys, heart, and reproductive system. First, it may namely cause low blood sugar, or interact with medicines which lower it. Second, stevia products can cause digestive concerns such as bloating or diarrhoea. Third, a study in 2019 from Pub Med finds that stevia can disrupt gut flora, just like other similar sweeteners. Fourth, stevia carries a mild and slightly bitter taste. Thus, there are not many people who enjoy it.

Nevertheless, the food and development administration (FDA) states that stevia is generally safe. In fact, it is even generally safe for people with diabetes. However, it does contain a minimal amount of glucose and calories. Hence, while smaller and occasional stevia consumption has little effect, the carb content adds up if you use it throughout the day.

Stevia with REB-A is safe to use by pregnant women. However, you should preferably opt for a brand which does not contain erythritol, especially if you are sensitive to sugar alcohol. Further, make sure to avoid whole leaf or home grown stevia, or crude stevia extract. In short, go for a store-bought form which your doctor suggests, if you wish to consume stevia while pregnant.

Benefits

Following are some details on the benefits of stevia.

Diabetes

Unlike other sweeteners, stevia does add on extra calories or simple carbs to your diet. Further, they do not impact blood sugar or insulin levels. Thus, this enables diabetic patients to opt widen their diet as part of a healthy meal plan. But don’t just take this from us – various studies prove this as well. For instance, a review of five random control trials compares the effects of stevia and placebos on metabolic outcomes. Findings report little to no effect on blood sugar, blood pressure, insulin levels and overall body weight.

Nevertheless, type II diabetes patients note a decline in both blood glucose levels and glucogen response after eating. Since glucogen helps to regular blood glucose levels post eating, it is often disruptive among diabetic patients. Stevia, in turn, helps too restore this balance. It namely keeps blood glucose levels low, and thus ensures optimal glucogen levels as well.

Blood Pressure Management

Various studies note that stevia can lower blood sugar levels. In fact, a 2003 study finds that it not only lowers existing levels, but can also dilate blood vessels, and increase sodium and urine output. Further, the same study mentions that the plant may contain cardio tonic actions – this normalises blood pressure and controls the heartbeat. Therefore, diabetic patients or people with high blood pressure should opt for stevia rather than other sweeteners.

Child Health

Children need a number of micronutrients to help them grow. In this manner, it lowers the consumption of artificial sweets from their diets. Today, you will find multiple products selling naturally sources stevia. For instance, you can find them in both salad dressings and side bars. This regulates their blood sugar levels and keeps sicknesses or diseases at bay.

Effective Weight Loss

You will find multiple articles regarding how this herb impacts weight loss and portion size. For instance, one study published by the Internation Journal of Obesity, dated March 17th, conducted a study involving 30 adult males. Here, subjects drank a solution comprising of either aspartame, monk fruit,  sugar or stevia, one hour prior to a meal. Findings broadly indicate that those who drink zero-calorie beverages ate more than those drinking sugary beverages.

Overall, the energy ‘saved’ by consuming non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) rather than sugar was not really avoided. Rather, these were compensated in subsequent meals. In other words, there was little to no change in total energy intake. However, those consuming NNS have a more all-round diet with various nutrients, as opposed to the other groups with who consume more empty calories.

Storing Stevia

After opening a store-bought container or packet, make sure to preserve it in a cool, dark, and dry spot. A kitchen cupboard, for instance is ideal. Alternatively, some liquid forms may require refrigeration – check the packet for guidelines. Further, make sure that the container is airtight to prevent leakages.

Finally, remember that the shelf life of stevia differs as per its form. Raw stevia, for instance, lasts upto 4 years from its manufacturing date. Other forms can last anywhere from 3-4 years.

Using Stevia

Stevia is a fantastic addition to both solid foods (eg. desserts) and beverages, e.g. sodas, juices, shakes, and baked goods, to name a few. You can either add this in its powdered or granulated form, or as a dropper that comes in bottles. Further, many blended and ready made ingredients use stevia as well. Make sure to check your nutrition labels to confirm how much is present. Likewise, if you prepare a dish at home using stevia, make sure to weigh out proportions according to caloric and taste requirements.

As with other ingredients, it is most important to get your proportions right when cooking with stevia. In other words, you cannot blindly substitute one sweetener for another! Thus, you may want to refer to a recipe using stevia to get the proportions right. Nevertheless, there are a couple of thumb rules you can use when baking with this.

For instance, in baking, 1 tsp of sugar equates five drops of liquid stevia (or half a packet). So, half a cup of sugar is equal to 1 tsp, or 12 stevia packets. Secondly, you can vary with proportions if you are adding this to tea or coffee. Simply add a few drops until you reach your desired level of sweetness.

Takeaways

Stevia is an all-natural and incredibly beneficial Ayurvedic sweetener. It is also among the oldest. Further, it holds a low calorie count and packs in an array of nutrients. Thus, it is especially helpful for those facing diabetes or high blood sugar. Make sure to weigh out and check your proportions if you are using this in baking or cooking.

Read about an ideal Ayurvedic diet for periods here.

Join us here at Mekosha for an Ayurvedic yoga retreat in Kerala. 

Article By:

Mekosha Ayurveda

"The Mekosha team works hard to put together curated knowledge to help you with your holistic healing journey. Subscribe now to receive more such useful articles."

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